I love that God works through me several different ways when I’m doing YoungLife at Travis, obviously the most important thing he uses me for is talking with the kids and being someone for them to trust and in whom they can confide. However, I also have a passion for the food industry in its many different forms. My main passion is the environmental aspects of food, but those issues tend to go hand-in-hand with the idea of social justice and equality of food. I don’t do YoungLife in Africa, and so it’s not like there are any serious problems with the food at Travis–evidenced alone by the fact that they can feed their kids affordable, decently-filling food. However, America hasn’t become a great country by settling with what works and doesn’t suck; it has come to greatness because key figures have wanted the best for our country and its citizens, and that same attitude should apply towards feeding our students.
It’s a small issue in the light of all things, but critics across the country are recognizing that school lunches have become atrociously deploring in nutrients and often don’t fulfill their most basic need: to provide students with energy so that they can concentrate during school and perform to the best of their mental ability, unimpeded by a growling stomach or prowling distraction of hunger.
I am not able to go to any lunches at Travis anymore because of my schedule, but I did many times last year, and I often see what they are eating for breakfast. The food–in addition to being unhealthy–doesn’t fill them up, make them feel better, or call any importance to the value of a meal. Their breakfasts are often a combination of a biscuit, a doughnut, a stick of sausage, jello, tater tots, sugary oatmeal, chocolate milk, or pizza. Their lunches are often even less palatable: pizza squares, chicken nuggets, chili dogs, jello, fruit juice, fried chicken burgers or hamburgers, peaches or pears in sugary syrup, cheese sticks, chips, or cookies. And always chocolate or strawberry milk.
I am not the only one who seems to think what they’re eating is a problem. I know that I have am thinly versed in the politics of school budgets and federal funding, but my naiveté makes me a more decisive judge: I don’t know the issues behind what they’re eating, but they deserve better. I don’t what school funds are for food, but the children they’re malnourishing are expected to support lawmakers and lobbyists when they retire, especially if those legislators’ hedge funds are running shallow. Many of the problems can be boiled down to inequitable government surpluses for high protein foods like cow, pig, chicken, and their byproducts. “In 2001 the USDA spent $350 million on surplus beef and cheese—more than double the amount spent on fruits and vegetables.” The Federal Government just does not give schools enough money to provide kids with lunches that are nutritious and that the kids will like. “ Schools where at least 60 percent of their students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches got just $2.49 per free lunch and $2.09 per reduced price lunch in the 2007-08 school year. You try feeding hundreds of hungry people on that budget.
The problem is not the kids’, nor is it the cafeteria ladies, nor the parents, who often do not have the time to prepare lunches for their children. School lunches are often two of the three meals kids eat a day, and if students are not being fed well twice a day, they will slide in their ability to succeed. No, the responsibility lies in the hands of the government and how important they think that feeding their citizens is, and right now they’re implying that keeping children well-fed is not a priority of theirs. The money that the government does give is not without strings either. I could go on a tangent about how BigAg lobbyists have much too much influence in the litigation that takes place on Capitol Hill, or I could just tell you that “”the government’s two biggest expenditures for the National School Lunch Program were $179 million for cheese and another $170 million for beef. “Seeing as how it has been proven that kids can grow and thrive on a vegetarian and even a vegan diet, think about how much money could be put towards buying healthier foods for children if they were fed meat twice less a week? If schools cut out meat totally? They would save millions of dollars that could go to buying less expensive sources of complete proteins and buy more vegetables, thus feeding kids more adequately and less expensively.
I tell my mom quite often that one of the things I admire most about her now is that all throughout school when she made my lunch, which was typically four of the five days in a week, she always made me a good sandwich, with chips, and a fruit or vegetable, and then some money for milk. Everyday I complained that I didn’t get hot lunch or lunchables like my friends, and she never relented. I couldn’t stand it. Now, I’m more grateful to her than she knows, because her persistence in getting me to eat wholesome, real foods has been imbued in me. Now I want kids to eat good and well, because I know exactly the shoes that they are in when it comes to food. Food may be a small part of the school day, but it’s an extremely integral part of a child’s education, and I’d like to see more done to improve it from the government, but also from families and kids themselves.